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“Ashes, ashes, we all fall down…..”

Saturday 5 AM: I am back online now it would seem and need to make this brief since I find I have no briefs other than the pair I wear.

Things. Things are gone. Serious things of memory never to be replaced. Things no longer needed and things never needed. And trivial things one needs to get through the day. I no longer have these things. All have gone into the smoke of the world as, in the end, do we all.

Our Savior Lutheran Church in Paradise

Today I have to start to replace the basics. The inventory of needful things and obscure objects is long and spotty. As I said above, no briefs have I. Nor spare socks. Nor toothbrush. Nor corkscrew. Nor any one of a thousand trivial things that form the tools of life and the shell of the self. Nor things like the photograph of my one daughter when she was small enough to rest there along my forearm. Losses one shrugs at and losses that make me weep here in the dawn.

What I do have is the love and the generosity of my cherished friends and readers. It is more wonderful and more widespread than I ever could have imagined. I will be weeks thanking all but my gratitude is deep and abiding.

What I do have is this small unknowing black cat sleeping curled at my side after our ride out of the fire.

What I do have is my mother sleeping quietly in the next room, her breathing soft and low as her life is fine and bright.

What I do have is my mother’s warm and settled apartment she has lived in for nearly 40 years. Others are sleeping in shelters, churches, RVs, and tents.

At the end of things we can, I think, come yet again to know  — as we know and forget and   know and again forget so many times — that Paradise is not a place that lasts forever here on Earth, but something that exists in the hearts of good people that hold their holy light within and, when that light is called forth, let it shine through.

I see this light shining forth from all here on this small page and all in this small city of Chico here at the top of the great central valley under the dense pall of smoke that falls from the burning ridge above, the smoke that comes, quite literally, from the pyre of Paradise.

If this essay pleased or informed you DONATE HERE to help me recover after being burned out in the Paradise fire with my thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Phil in Englewood November 10, 2018, 6:52 AM

    Thank you for the update. The losses shockingly complete and sudden. It seems the mother quietly sleeping and the unknowing cat are very much blessings, a small connection to the wonderful things in life.

    Would it be a good idea for you to set up an Amazon wish list or registry or whatever to list the specific things you need to replace, maybe ranked in order of importance? Many of us would like to help – that may be a good way to help soonest. In any case, once more to the tip jar.

    Good luck. So glad you are safe.

  • Ann K. November 10, 2018, 7:16 AM

    Oh, Gerard! Keep us posted and set up a way for us to donate!

  • Morgan K Freeberg November 10, 2018, 7:19 AM

    Agreed. We have so many fine corkscrews from which you could have your pick, but I fear by the time we managed to get one to you you’d have twenty corkscrews.

  • BillH November 10, 2018, 7:23 AM

    Bummer. Tinkled the tip jar.

  • BarbaCat November 10, 2018, 7:50 AM

    Looking at all the pictures of what’s going on down there – – it’s just awful.
    Lots of people praying for you, Gerard, and for all who are so damaged & injured.
    So relieved to learn you’re safe.

  • Bill Henry November 10, 2018, 7:51 AM


    So sorry for your loss… Really am.

    Please do us a favor and put together a list on amazon. We truly care and are invested in your circumstance, as many of us have rode the same train you ride and find ourselves riders in the same station in life. So no false modesty, give us a list, please.

    I hit the tip jar, but I owe you much more.

    In Christ, because outside of Christ there is no hope…
    Bill Henry

  • ca November 10, 2018, 7:58 AM
  • christos kitromilides November 10, 2018, 8:01 AM

    I can only offer my deepest sympathy from Athens Greece.
    A devoted and thankful reader.

  • Jimmy November 10, 2018, 8:21 AM

    Most of your physical things are gone, but the inventory of all that matters to readers like me has never been larger: you. You are an anchor on the Internet, Gerard. And it/you are still there and stronger than ever! The best to you and your Mom.

  • Julie November 10, 2018, 8:38 AM

    As a teenager, my family’s home – the house my mom grew up in – caught fire. By God’s grace nobody was home, and cats and dogs were all safe and accounted for, but even so there’s nothing like the shock of suddenly finding oneself without *home* and dependent on the goodness of people, family and stranger alike, for even the simplest and most ordinary things. Devastating. And yet, too, like the pine seed that germinates in the inferno, through the experience we were ultimately graced with a sort of second birth. May this be true for you as well, and for all in your community today who are suffering unimaginable loss. May God grant you all comfort, all grace, and every blessing. Even if it’s hard to see it right now in midst of anguish.

  • Boldasabear November 10, 2018, 8:39 AM

    Born again having been tried by fire you will arise from the ashes like the Phoenix and start a new chapter in life.
    I have amassed too many possessions in life that I have become a slave too and sometimes wish a fire would cleanse me from the slavery to this world and give me a new lease on life. Somewhere in this tragedy there will be blessings to be discovered. So glad you, your mom and kitty cat are safe.
    Thank you for your inspirational writings. We will keep you in our prayers and will also send some monetary support your way to help rebuild your immediate necessities.

  • Denny November 10, 2018, 8:40 AM

    “As I said above, no briefs have I. Nor spare socks. Nor toothbrush. Nor corkscrew.”

    Right now, you don’t need a corkscrew, just buy a few bottles of wine that have twist off caps.
    And no, – thank YOU for all the beautiful things you have given us (me personally for the last 12 years).

  • Dr. Jay November 10, 2018, 8:53 AM

    “Though thy beginning was small, yet thy latter end should greatly increase.” – Job 8:7

    Hope that verse gives you Hope (as well as your neighbors), as much Hope as it gave us when we lost everything in the 2010 Nashville flood. It gets better. Really.

  • Larry Jones November 10, 2018, 9:07 AM

    Thank You for the update. We’ve been worried about you and are so glad you are safe. I can’t imagine your pain right now but I sincerely hope and pray for your future. I agree with the others who have posted that an Amazon wish list would help us, help you. Hang in there sir.

  • Walt Gottesman November 10, 2018, 9:07 AM

    “Things. Things are gone. Serious things of memory never to be replaced. Things no longer needed and things never needed. And trivial things one needs to get through the day. I no longer have these things. All have gone into the smoke of the world as, in the end, do we all.”

    GV: Thanks for sharing with your readers your usual eternal perspective, even in the wake of personal loss and disaster. You’re a man of faith. That’s what brings me back to your blog again and again.

    It’s good to know that once more your life has been spared. A great “Somebody” up there likes you. And, as you probably already realize, so do many lesser somebodies down here.

    Best wishes to you, your mom, and your cat. Stay safe.

  • mushroom November 10, 2018, 9:13 AM

    You were raised from the dead already. Now you’ll be the phoenix. You are in my prayers. I will keep hitting the tip jar, but let us know what you want for Christmas.

  • Riley November 10, 2018, 9:15 AM

    God bless all of you caught by the swift cruelty of wildfire. We were burned out in ‘13, and only an exceptional air show over our home saved it. The burned trees are still scattered like jack-straws across our land, melting down amongst their young replacements. Fire brings death and rebirth. We can only shake our heads and cope, while Nature rebuilds in her uncaring way.

  • JiminAlaska November 10, 2018, 9:20 AM

    Sorry Gerard.
    Breitbart has some pretty extensive pictorial coverage of the fire’s impact on Paradise:

  • soapweed November 10, 2018, 9:24 AM

    Sir: So very sorry…. Please give a hard mailing address for a little contribute action for those of us who will not use the electronic scam methodology. Thanks

  • Kim November 10, 2018, 9:38 AM

    Longtime reader but first time comment. Prayers for you, family, friends, animals. I’m sorry for your losses and appreciate your insights.

  • BJM November 10, 2018, 9:51 AM

    Julie put it so beautifully that I can only proffer a bit of advice from someone who walked in your shoes twenty odd years ago. Standing in the ashy husk of one’s life is such a surreal mind numbing experience. Take it day at a time. Soon you must deal with officialdom and that will get your juices flowing again and return a sense of control. Our friends and family provided photos , shared mementos and the kindness of strangers was astounding.

    Please set up an Amazon list and let us repay you for the years of inspiration and enjoyment you’ve given us by replacing some of the everyday bric-a-brac…or even just more briefs! One can imagine bales of tidy whites suddenly appearing on your Mom’s doorstep.

    Take care,

  • Patvann November 10, 2018, 10:01 AM

    I’m thankful you’re safe, Gerard. As with the others…If there’s anything we can do…

  • Leslie November 10, 2018, 10:11 AM

    Continued prayer and a small hit on the tip jar. Godspeed, Mr VDL.

  • Ethan Russell November 10, 2018, 11:18 AM

    I reached out to McGruder to find out about you so got some news. Let me know if there’s anything I can do. It occurs to me I have quite a lot of technology I could gift you. Not the latest but perfectly good Macbook Pros, that kind of thing. Glad you are OK and with your Mom. ethan@ethanrussell.com is a little better than FB where I am errant.

  • JoanOfArgghh! November 10, 2018, 11:23 AM

    Oh, Gerard! So glad you and your dear mother and cat are safe. All the rest is dross.
    There is no trailer hitch on the hearse… you are safe, like the Flying Dutchman, cheating Death once again. I give thanks to God for your life and that of those you love.

  • Go November 10, 2018, 11:28 AM

    I have an older Kindle that still works very well. You would be able to access my library, which is odd, but extensive. Also, I could fill a box with kitchen stuff that I have too many of. Keep what you want, throw/donate the rest.

  • Cobb November 10, 2018, 11:34 AM

    When you come down to SoCal, let us know. We all have space and home cooking and warm hands. Our hearts are not so heavy knowing few of the most precious were lost. Nine as of today.

  • Catherine Powell November 10, 2018, 12:17 PM

    Glad to hear you and yours are okay.

  • Eskyman November 10, 2018, 12:43 PM

    Gerard, I am so sad to hear of your losses, but so very glad that you, your mother and your kitty are safe and well.

    May the good Lord bless you and provide for you, and I too am ready to assist in any way I can.

  • Jason November 10, 2018, 12:54 PM

    I have hit the tip jar, hope it helps in securing some basic stuff and maybe a bottle of wine as a brief distraction. We will send more as we can.

  • Ten November 10, 2018, 1:04 PM

    Saddened to hear this dire news, host. Other than that, speechless – such loss is inscrutable.

    My best to all … including the hopeful small black cat.

  • william thomas November 10, 2018, 1:32 PM

    So sorry. Lost everything in a house fire when I was eight. Such a helpless feeling. I just want to thank you for your wonderful Blog. Been a fan since about 04, or thereabouts, I think.

  • william thomas November 10, 2018, 1:35 PM

    Oh, and thank you for the cookie recipe. Delicious.

  • RottyLover November 10, 2018, 1:54 PM

    It’s heart wrenching. I have a lot of family in Paradise, and they all lost everything. They narrowly escaped with their lives.

  • Hernan Escobar November 10, 2018, 2:04 PM

    Mr. VanderLeun,

    Is your mailing address at the side bar; 6616-D Clark Road, #146, Paradise, CA 95969, still valid?

    If not, please provide us with a new, valid mailing address.

    Thank you.

    Blessings to you and yours.


    Hernan Escobar

  • Pat November 10, 2018, 2:22 PM

    So glad you are safe.

  • Orson November 10, 2018, 4:04 PM

    I was in a Colorado Walmart two days ago. A grandmother said she was in touch with children in Paradise as the fires approached. “Go GO GO!” she implored them! Leave they did.

  • SukieTawdry November 10, 2018, 4:19 PM

    I still remember your updates on the massive Laguna Canyon wildfire. I am so sorry for the losses you all have sustained and so grateful you’re uninjured and safe. The smoke has reached south Placer County now so we share at least a tiny fraction of your pain. I send you my best wishes for your rebuilding and a little scratch to help it along.

  • Janice November 10, 2018, 4:24 PM

    We are so sad for the people of Paradise, and for you. It looks horrifying.

    Years ago I came across a post you wrote about one of your forays through the South. I think you had been in Asheville and commented on a little restaurant you found there. I responded and to my surprise you kindly commented back. Funny how little things like that stick.

    So putting a little in the tip jar. I see you will have plenty of corkscrews and probably briefs but hopefully this will be multiplied by many who know your writing for those things you need, and desire.

    May there be comfort for those who lost their loved ones. May there be beauty from ashes.

  • Don Rodrigo November 10, 2018, 4:38 PM

    Not been here in a while, and I come back see disaster has struck you. Very sorry. So glad you have your indomitable mother.

  • Todd Bensel November 10, 2018, 5:21 PM

    Been a faithful follower for a long time. Came through fire myself, and it’s confusing, not fun, and least of all tidy. Consider moving to Chico to continue to be the faithful and humble son that your mother needs and, I would venture to guess, admires! Friends are what we all need when fire strikes, but money is the only answer for many problems so will send some. Please keep my much loved companion “American Digest” alive! You sir are a blessing to many! Thanks and God’s very best for you and your mother.

  • So Cal fan November 10, 2018, 6:00 PM

    Hang in there Gerard.
    You are a good man- the last site on the innertubes I hit for the day for the elegaic wit, humor and deep wonder of it all. You have given so much you cannot know to us, and I hit the tip jar again today to pay a little bit back.

  • Lance de Boyle November 10, 2018, 6:11 PM

    If you could post an address, Gerard, we’d, I’m sure, send you assorted needfuls.

  • Paddy November 10, 2018, 8:34 PM

    Gerard, daily visitor of your blog here. I live just outside of Placerville. I have an rv pad with full hookup sitting empty on my 10 acres in a setting much like where you have lived. You are welcome to drop in and stay as long as you like. Bring your mom and even your cat, though my malamute likes to chase them (cats, that is). He means no harm though. Been praying for your community.

  • Vanderleun November 10, 2018, 8:54 PM

    I am now going to seriously relocate to Chico to be near my mom. Maybe (Ideally) in my mother’s apartment complex if a one bedroom comes available (unlikely but I can hope.) If not that maybe another. Chico is going, however, to be very very FULL very very soon.

  • Al Johnson November 10, 2018, 10:24 PM

    Gerard, I sent a note to Glenn Reynolds last night about your news, and I’ll bet more of your fans did the same thing. I see he posted about it today– hope you get an Instalanche!

  • Martell November 10, 2018, 10:43 PM

    From South Florida,
    So glad that you and Mom and kitty are safe. Your blog is a blessing to me. Praying for you, family and neighbors. God bless.

  • Mike-SMO November 11, 2018, 1:20 AM

    I am glad everyone got out intact. A friend lost her place in Santa Rosa last year.


    California has fire and wind every damn year It seems as if no one builds with fire retardant roofs and siding, such as stucco. Next year it will be the same. If you’ll insist on living in glorified grass huts, better buy a fire resistant valuables container and keep a “Bug-Out” bag ready. It is going to be the same next year.

  • Steve in Greensboro November 11, 2018, 4:07 AM

    Sometimes the news coverage seems overblown, but not in this case I guess. What destruction. As everybody says, we are glad your family (Mom and cat) are OK and needful things can be replaced. We are very glad you are OK.

  • Pamela Schieber November 11, 2018, 4:46 AM

    I cried for your losses, but thank G-d for your blessings. I’m one of your thousands of readers that you make happy. May G-d bring you comfort as well as the safety He provided.

  • Kurt Harden November 11, 2018, 5:24 AM

    Gerard – So very sorry to hear this. Please let me know if I can help out in any way. Made a donation. You are in our family’s prayers.


  • Casey Klahn November 11, 2018, 6:22 AM

    Glad for the update. A veil separates the wounded from the unscathed. We try to understand the losses, but it is unfathomable.

    This fortunate son hit the tip jar with a very small clink, but I have some idea of what you’re going through.

    Moving to Chico will be a blessing for your mom, but I know how difficult any move is. Please take care of yourself. New start.

  • Nicholas November 11, 2018, 10:29 AM

    Devastated to read this, but relieved that you’re okay. I’ve made a small contribution to your tip jar, and I wish I could afford to make it more.

  • Tom Saunders November 11, 2018, 11:14 AM

    What a powerful photographic metaphor of our time.
    One minute a thriving purposeful enterprise: the next, a smoldering pile of ash, while oblivious government attempts to control non-existent, and ultimately irrelevant, traffic.

  • Elizabeth November 11, 2018, 6:49 PM

    Like every good hoarder, I have two of everything – one for me, one for you. (No briefs though.) Please lmk what you need. Or bring that cat to our cozy guest room for a while. Sending my love…

  • Blackwing1 November 11, 2018, 7:00 PM

    I’ve also lost everything in a fire except my life, my wife and our cat. We had only seconds to get out of our apartment and took only what we needed to live – a fire extinguisher – as we headed down the stairs. The building burned to the ground as we watched from the street.

    This may prove to be your 3rd birth. The first was a physical one, as your beloved mom gave you initial life. The second was recovering after the heart attack – that missing span of time that you’ve written about. The fire has swept the slate clean once again, and you can build another new life as you chose.

    Of the losses from my fire, the replaceable, the buyable…it’s all trivia. Yes it’s a shock to have to replace common items (it struck me as I bought a box of toothpicks…how often do I do that?) but they are easily replaced. The others are not. I was once a photographer, and that fire took all of my prints and negatives. I have nothing left but what was published. The family memorabilia entrusted to me is gone forever, and our family is diminished by that loss.

    But even these losses are trivial in the face of what others have lost – the lives of those who never made it out in time. All that they were, and all that they might have been, gone. We’ll keep them alive in our memories.

  • Beverly November 11, 2018, 11:56 PM

    “Running to Paradise”

    As I came over Windy Gap
    They threw a halfpenny into my cap.
    For I am running to paradise;
    And all that I need do is to wish
    And somebody puts his hand in the dish
    To throw me a bit of salted fish:
    And there the king is but as the beggar.

    My brother Mourteen is worn out
    With skelping his big brawling lout,
    And I am running to paradise;
    A poor life, do what he can,
    And though he keep a dog and a gun,
    A serving-maid and a serving-man:
    And there the king is but as the beggar.

    Poor men have grown to be rich men,
    And rich men grown to be poor again,
    And I am running to paradise;
    And many a darling wit’s grown dull
    That tossed a bare heel when at school,
    Now it has filled a old sock full:
    And there the king is but as the beggar.

    The wind is old and still at play
    While I must hurty upon my way.
    For I am running to paradise;
    Yet never have I lit on a friend
    To take my fancy like the wind
    That nobody can buy or bind:
    And there the king is but as the beggar.

    William Butler Yeats

  • Callmelennie November 12, 2018, 10:43 AM

    I didn’t understand what you were getting at with your post on Nov 8 — that you were personally in the path of a fire. So glad you are doing well. The things that have come your way in this decade!! But you still have your mother with you, and all her wits about her still? Not many men your age have that

    I came with a few days of being killed in a wildfire. Rented a vacation house deep in the backwoods of Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A week after I left, the house burnt to the ground in the wildfires that ravaged the area. Given the narrow winding roads leading up to the house, I never would have escaped

  • Ersatz Naugahyde November 12, 2018, 12:33 PM

    Just an observation.. The flag is still NOT flying on the pole @ McDs

  • j November 13, 2018, 6:28 PM

    My friend, I too have lost everything I, and my family, owned in a fire. At the time my wife was 37 wks pregnant with twins. Nothing I or anyone else says will help.
    I found what hope I could in Proverbs 3:5.
    One day at a time, and give the insurance agents hell.

    If it helps you can email me how I got through